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Soapbox & Opinions

Getting a grip on gemstone care

I offer lapidary services and, over the past several years, I have noticed a rise in gemstones coming in from jewellers to be repaired and repolished.

There are various reasons for this – the gemstone has been chipped during setting, generally around the corners; the gemstone is scratched and chipped on the facets, edges and the table; the gemstone is well-worn and has come from a setting that is being remade or repaired and requires a full crown and table repolish.

As workers of metals and gemstones, we need to be conscious of the fact that coloured gemstones are not diamonds. They have neither the hardness nor the durability of diamonds and, as such, they require more mindfulness in their handling.

It is always surprising how little some jewellers seem to know about gemstones, especially when it comes to looking after them. I recently cut a beautiful tourmaline for a jeweller. I got it back about one month later with a request to polish out some nasty scratches and chips that had appeared.

It turned out the jeweller would leave the gemstone table down on the workbench among all the grit and tools! I told them that tourmalines are not diamonds and they will scratch.

A significant proportion of dust in the general environment is comprised of silica and quartz particles so imagine what it’s like in the work area of an average manufacturing jeweller or gem-cutter where there is a good portion of corundum, garnet and other coarse particles in the dust, along with various tools, files and metals scattered on the bench.

"Coloured gemstones are not diamonds. They have neither the hardness nor the durability of diamonds and, as such, they require more mindfulness in their handling."

Dirty fingers are also a big contributor when it comes to roughing up the surface of a gemstone. After sanding, filing and polishing a piece all morning, a jeweller’s fingers are now loaded with compound and all manner of particles from the corundum sandpaper and emery.

At some point they’re going to pick up that lovely aquamarine or tourmaline, which for the past few days has sat face down on the bench, the table facet rubbing nicely away in the dust, and that gemstone is going to pick up a collection of fine scratches quickly.

Sapphires aren’t too bad as they are reasonably hard and can take a bit of wear but quartzes like amethyst and citrine, garnets, tourmalines, aquamarines, emeralds and tanzanites are all gemstones that will scratch fairly easily if jewellers are not careful.

Again, it baffles me just how few jewellers seem to have a good grasp on basic handling principles. Having a clean soft cloth that is only for holding and polishing gemstones is paramount – don’t use gold or silver polishing cloths as these have compound embedded into the fibres and will scratch the gemstone very quickly. Instead, try cloths suitable for cleaning eyeglass lenses.

If the gemstone has been handled and needs cleaning because it is now oily or gritty, keep a small spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol handy. Grab a piece of toilet paper – the cheaper stuff is better – and spray the gemstone with the isopropyl alcohol whilst gently rubbing it in the paper.

Should the gemstones need to be out on the bench then use a small clean tray, complete with a lid and preferably separate little compartments. It might seem obvious but avoid putting multiple gemstones in with each other because the harder ones will scratch the softer ones – even two of the same gemstones will scratch each other! Most especially, avoid putting coloured gemstones together with small melee-sized diamonds.

Can we all agree that it’s a lot easier to sell a nice, well-polished and scratch-free gemstone than one that has been ill-treated? No one wants to sell a gemstone while hoping that the customer doesn’t look too closely.

In the case where the gemstone has been supplied by the customer, the last thing a jeweller wants to explain is why there is a big scratch running across the middle of the table or why the corner is chipped because the setting had to be rushed.

Yes, a gemstone can quite often be repaired and repolished; however, the best policy is surely to avoid having to do so in the first place. A little bit more mindfulness when handling coloured gemstones can save time, money and hassle, which is more important than ever these days.

Ultimately, it should be in every jeweller’s best interest to look after coloured gemstones.

Name: Doug Menadue
Business: Bespoke Gems
Position: Managing director
Location: Sydney, NSW
Years in the industry: 9

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